The profiles of the Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Tennessee State football teams have risen, and their game this Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., now takes on much more importance in the race for the black college national championship.
Tennessee State has assumed the No. 1 ranking in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network black college poll from Bethune-Cookman after beating the host Wildcats 21-14 in Daytona Beach, Fla. But now, the Tigers (4-0) of the Ohio Valley Conference will get to play a ranked team for the second consecutive week when they host the Golden Lions for homecoming at LP Field, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
UAPB broke into the poll at No. 7 following its 24-21 victory at Alabama State on Thursday night, starting 3-1 for the second consecutive year. And the Lions will play one of their highest-profile games in Monte Coleman’s five seasons as head coach.
Asked whether it’s the biggest game in recent years for UAPB, Coleman kept an even keel.
“It’s a football game,” Coleman said Monday during the SWAC coaches’ teleconference. “It’s a big game because it’s the next game. No bigger than it was against Alabama State and no bigger than Jackson State (on Oct. 6).
“All of our games are big. But this is the biggest game of the year because it’s the next game. We take it one game at a time.”
The Lions have momentum from their win over Alabama State, the previous No. 7 team in the SBN poll. That game, which was televised on ESPNU, gave the Lions experience in handling — and winning — a high-profile contest.
Tennessee State and UAPB will play for the first time since 1947, partly because UAPB could not negotiate another game at the Gateway Classic in St. Louis. The Lions have played there almost every year since its 1994 inception.
Coleman said the Lions also wanted “something different in its schedule.”
“St. Louis is a place we love to go,” he said. “But the distance to Nashville and to St. Louis is relatively the same. We should have a lot of fans travel with us (to Nashville).”
Barlow enjoyed watching Lions on film
Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow didn’t like the outcome of Thursday’s game against UAPB as much as he did watching the Lions on film.
Barlow said Monday he “enjoyed” watching the Lions as he prepared for them.
“I’m a football fan,” Barlow said. “I love the game. I enjoy good football. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a good football team. They’re a good, fundamentally sound team.”
And UAPB was a team that had Alabama State on the ropes for much of the game. Alabama State pulled within three points with its hurry-up offense but missed a field goal with less than a minute remaining, allowing UAPB to run out the clock.
While the offense got the Hornets back in the game, their defense struggled, allowing the Lions 466 total yards.
“Our defense is not performing to our expectations,” Barlow said. “In some places, we have good tackling and some places, we have guys running free. Running backs aren’t being touched until they get five yards downfield.”
Justin Billings ran for a season-high 127 yards on 12 carries.
Now, that A-State is in the past …
Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson has a lot of respect for Arkansas State. But this past Saturday, he found out how much firepower the Red Wolves have.
A-State had its best offensive showing at the expense of Alcorn State, beating the Braves 56-0 Saturday in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves (2-2) totaled 634 yards of offense and were led on defense by sophomore Kyle Coleman, Monte’s son, and freshman Chris Humes with seven tackles apiece.
“Arkansas State is a senior-laden team,” Hopson said. “Their quarterback (Ryan Aplin) is an outstanding player. They could win the Sun Belt.”
Aplin passed for 198 yards against Alcorn State (1-3).
The game was the last nonconference outing of the season for the Braves.
“Glad to be back in conference, but we have seven weeks of tough football left,” Hopson said.
Southern wins one for Odums
Dawson Odums’ stint as Southern’s interim coach started with a 28-21 win at Jackson State on Saturday. Southern (1-2, 1-1 SWAC) led 28-0 at one point.
“We wanted to taste victory,” Odums said. “Even under coach Stump Mitchell, we felt we had a good football team. We just hadn’t played up to it.”
Mitchell was reassigned within the athletic department following a 6-0 loss to Mississippi Valley State nine days earlier.
Odums said he kept his nerves under control while leading the Jaguars for the first time.
“I believe the good Lord won’t put more on you than you can possibly bear,” he said. “I’m excited to be in the situation I’m in. It’s been tough, but good players and assistant around you make it easier.”